ASIAN FAIRS READY FOR THE RETURN OF FOREIGN BUYERS

HONG KONG — With the regional recession now recent history, Asia’s premier trade fair organizers are finding that buyers and sellers from around the world are reconverging on the area, ready to do business again.
“Our textile trade shows are definitely picking up again,” said Katy Lam, general manager of textiles at Messe Frankfurt, which organizes several trade shows a year in Hong Kong and China. “During the crisis, we were especially hit by what was happening in Taiwan and Korea. But overseas visitors and exhibitors are seeing Asia as strong again and know it’s time to come back to this market.”
While Lam said that U.S. buyer presence at Asian trade fairs has remained at a high level throughout, there has been a marked fall in the numbers of Europeans coming to participate. In 1997, about 50 percent of all exhibitors at textile fair Interstoff Asia were from Europe. At the last Interstoff Asia, held last month, that figure had fallen to 20 percent. But Lam is not alarmed by the sharp decrease.
“Asia is not a new market for European companies,” Lam said. “After having been to us for so many years, they have now acquired local agents for this market, and the agents handle their participation. Also, with the reforms under way in the European textile industry, and government sponsorship (of participation in trade fairs) at a low, it is not that easy anymore for European exhibitors to come here to show.”
For the next Interstoff, which will be held in October, Lam is planning to re-pitch the attraction of the trade fair by designating a special arena just for European exhibitors and offering them other incentives.
“We will do our part,” Lam said. “We would like European companies to come back, especially now that Asia is booming again and the market is strong for expensive, high-quality fabrics. As manufacturing technology improves here, and Asian manufacturers can produce good quality items, it’s important that European suppliers see how they can fit into the market again.”
The gap left by European suppliers has been taken up by companies in Korea, China and Japan — whose combined overall participation at Interstoff has almost doubled. The ongoing relaxation of regulations in China has also allowed Chinese textile companies to visit Interstoff to buy and sell.
Paul Woodward, director of Asian Strategies for Miller Freeman Asia Ltd., another leading trade fair organizer in Asia, said he had seen “substantially increased numbers of visitors and positive reports all around.”
“Starting from around last October, we have seen good pick-up in all the major events we’ve done around the region,” he said. “Even though 1998 and the first half of 1999 were down, people still participated, although they had cut back on advertising and promotions. But they weren’t doing an awful lot of business. At the end of last year, however, people who came to our trade fairs in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok came with low expectations, so it was relatively easy for them to be affected by the upturn.”
Woodward has seen numbers pick up across the board. Miller Freeman now organizes trade fairs for the cosmetics, jewelry and leather industries. European participation, particularly at the Asia Pacific Leather Fair, remains high, especially among Italians.
“We still have very strong support from Europe because of the nature of the industry, and even at Cosmoprof Asia, the beauty fair, there are a good number of European buyers,” he added.
The Hong Kong Jewelry Fair, which will be held in September, is also expecting a large turnout, according toWoodward.
“We saw a huge surge in big events in 1997, when we had access to the expanded facilities at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center,” Woodward said. “Then 1998 and 1999 had their drawbacks. But we held on through the recession, and there is now a lot of enthusiasm in fairs again.”
Lam is anticipating an even greater response to October’s Interstoff Asia, which broke the 13,000 visitor mark in its last edition. After China, its Hong Kong special territory is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of clothing and therefore has a huge demand for textiles. Hong Kong’s exports of clothing and accessories to ASEAN countries increased by 56 percent in the first two months of 2000, over the same period last year.
In October, Messe Frankfurt will hold the Intertextile trade fair in Shanghai, featuring home and apparel textiles. The fair last year had increased 10 percent in terms of exhibitor space over 1998. For this year, she is expecting an increase of 50 percent in Italian participation based on favorable results last year.
More effort will also go toward developing the China end of the business, Lam said.
“There is new money in China, and the government is becoming more and more relaxed, so tariffs and duties will be lowered,” she predicted. “In terms of trends, marketing techniques and production, China is very much a new and upcoming market with huge potential. In 1998, we had fewer than 10,000 visitors to Intertextile. In 1999, that figure rose to more than 16,000 and exhibitors were happy that the visitors were genuine buyers.”